The composer Steve Martland has died at 53

James Jolly7th May 2013
The striking cover of Steve Martland's 1994 Catalyst album, 'Patrol'The striking cover of Steve Martland's 1994 Catalyst album, 'Patrol'

The Liverpool-born composer Steve Martland has died. His music, which acknowledged few boundaries, often led him to collaborate with players outside the classical world, and is characterised by its vivid rhythmic life and frequently involves amplification.

Martland studied at Liverpool University and then in The Netherlands with Louis Andriessen. In 1984 he attended the Berkshire Music Center to study composition with Gunther Schuller. His passionate belief in the role of the composer in society led him to work with children and he established an annual composition course for school children called Strike Out. 

He wrote his largest orchestral work, Babi Yar, in 1983 and it was premiered almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic: by the St Louis SO and Leonard Slatkin, and the Royal Liverpool PO and Nicholas Cleobury. It was later recorded for the iconic Factory Records and Arnold Whittall writing in Gramophone in September 1990 commented that 'Babi Yar … is certainly no War Requiem, yet its outer sections, and especially its ending, do offer more than a hint of consolation – even, at the very end, a Tippett-like sense of inevitable and positive rebirth. This feeling of Good coming out of Evil is no less strong in Drill (1987) which, despite its distinctly soulless title, radiates in its final stages an affirmative tone as unmistakable as that which crowns Stravinsky's Les noces.'

Other important scores include Crossing the Border (for the National Ballet, Amsterdam), Danceworks (for London Contemporary Dance Theatre) and Tiger Dancing (for the Henri Oguike Dance Company). He wrote his Street Songs for Evelyn Glennie and The Kings Singers (also performed by Colin Currie, the Monteverdi Choir and Sir John Eliot Gardiner).

Martland often performed his own music with his Steve Martland Band, an 11-piece group. His often loudly voiced politics, primarily aimed at Margaret Thatcher's government, led him to create a multi-media work called Albion that fused music, text and film.

Martland was artistic director of the Society for the Promotion of New Music between 2000 and 2002 and was composer-in-residence at the ETNA Music Festival in Sicily in 2006 and 2007. He music has been recorded often on labels that include Factory, Catalyst, RCA, Black Box, Meridian. Linn and Signum.

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